“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)


How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)


''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."


“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."



African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Zacharias ABUBEKER)

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Rome, C. Africa govt inks peace deal with rebel groups

Yahoo – AFP, June 19, 2017

L-R: National Convergence Kwa Na Kwa party general secretary Bertin Bea,
Republic of Central Africa foreign minister Charles Armel Doubaned and
Central African president political advisor George Isidore Alphonse Dibert
pose on June 19, 2017 in Rome (AFP Photo/FILIPPO MONTEFORTE)

Rome (AFP) - The Central African Republic's government on Monday signed an "immediate ceasefire" deal with rebel groups at a meeting in Rome aimed at ending violence in the strife-torn country.

The accord, negotiated over five days, was hailed as a precious chance to stabilise one of the world's most volatile and poorest countries.

Under it, armed groups will be given representation in the political arena in exchange for an end to attacks and blockades, and their members will be brought into the country's armed forces.

"We commit to the immediate implementation by political-military groups of a country-wide ceasefire, to be monitored by the international community, as a fundamental step on the way to definitive peace," the deal read.

"The government undertakes to ensure military groups are represented at all levels" and are "recognised as part of the reconstruction efforts", it said.

The accord was brokered by the Community of Sant'Egidio, a group rooted in the Catholic church that promotes dialogue with other religions and non-believers. It has been an active mediator in many African conflicts.

The rebel groups pledged to ensure "the free movement of people and goods by removing illegal barriers as an immediate consequence of the ceasefire".

State authority

The signatories also committed to "restoring the (authority of the) state across the national territory."

One of the world's poorest nations, CAR has been struggling to recover from a civil war between the Muslim and Christian militias that started in 2013 when President Francois Bozize was overthrown by a coalition of Muslim-majority rebel groups called the Seleka.

They in turn were ousted by a military intervention led by former colonial ruler France.

Those events sparked the bloodiest sectarian violence in the country's history as mainly Christian militias sought revenge.

Christians, who account for about 80 percent of the population, organised vigilante units dubbed "anti-balaka", in reference to the machetes used by the rebels.

The signatories of Monday's agreement included various factions of the Seleka as well as Christian and animist groups.

Members of armed groups will be "integrated" into the country's armed forces, "in line with pre-established criteria" and after an "upgrade," according to the deal.

Sant'Egidio's president Marco Impagliazzo described the accord as "an historic agreement, a deal full of hope".

CAR's foreign minister, Charles Armel Doubane, echoed those remarks, speaking of a "day of hope" for the country.

The UN's special representative on CAR, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga of Gabon, who is also head of the UN's stabilisation force there, attended the talks. Several heads of CAR political parties also took part.

The agreement announced on Monday comes against a backdrop of mounting concern.

Last month, the UN's humanitarian coordination agency OCHA reported on an "alarming" rise in violence, with "clashes (that) have taken an increasingly religious and ethnic connotation,."

It said the number of internally displaced people is now over half a million for the first time since August 2014, while a further 400,000, out of a population of 4.5 million, had fled to neighbouring countries.

The country's armed forces are estimated to number about 8,000, backed by 900 French troops and 10,000 troops and 2,000 civilians serving in a UN force called MINUSCA.

They have stabilised the situation, but around half the country -- which covers almost 623,000 square kilometres (241,000 square miles), a little less than Afghanistan or Chile -- remains outside government control.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Egypt parliament agrees island transfer to Saudi Arabia: state TV

Yahoo – AFP, June 14, 2017

The deal to hand over the Red Sea islands of Tiran (foreground) and Sanafir
(background) to Saudi Arabia provoked accusations that Cairo had "sold"
the strategic islands (AFP Photo/STRINGER)

Cairo (AFP) - Egypt's parliament approved on Wednesday a controversial maritime agreement with Saudi Arabia that transfers two Red Sea islands to the kingdom, state television and a lawmaker said.

The deal, which is still under challenge in court, had sparked rare protests in the country with the opposition accusing the government of selling Egyptian territory to its Saudi benefactors.

The vote came after days of heated debate in parliament with opponents even interrupting one committee session with chanting.

Courts had struck down the agreement, signed in April 2016, but a year later another court upheld it.

Lawyers are now challenging the deal before the constitutional court.

The accord had sparked rare protests in Egypt last year, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi accused of having traded the islands of Tiran and Sanafir for Saudi largesse.

The government has said the islands were Saudi to begin with, but were leased to Egypt in the 1950s.

Opponents of the agreement insist that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian.

On Tuesday evening dozens of journalists protested against the agreement in central Cairo, before being dispersed by police, journalists' union official Gamal Abdel Rehim told AFP.

Several were briefly arrested before being released but "three reporters are still detained, and contacts are being made with the interior ministry to get them released," he said.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Netanyahu woos West African leaders at Liberia summit

Yahoo – AFP, June 4, 2017

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu told ECOWAS head Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:
'Israel is coming back to Africa' (AFP Photo/Zoom DOSSO)

Monrovia (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday joined West African leaders at a summit in Liberia, where they hailed peacekeeping efforts in the region but warned about threats to stability.

Netanyahu, who had visited east Africa in July 2016, vowed that they had "no better partner" than his country after he was received by Liberian President and outgoing head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

"Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel. I believe in Africa. I believe in its potential, present and future. It is a continent on the rise," said the Israeli leader.

"Africans are seizing the future. Israel wants to seize this future with you. You truly have no better partner for this mission than Israel," he added.

Sirleaf hailed the contribution of ECOWAS forces in restoring peace in her country, wracked by a bloody civil war from 1989-2003.

"This marks a turning point in the post-conflict recovery in the reconstruction of our country," she said. "Many ECOWAS citizens made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives for the uninterrupted peace we continue to enjoy.

But she warned "Today, terrorist attacks are endangering the stability in our regions."

On Saturday a Gambian protester died of gunshot wounds after being shot as supporters of former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh clashed with ECOWAS forces, deployed in the country since January.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thousands rally in Morocco for release of protest leader

Yahoo – AFP, May 31, 2017

Demonstrators in Morocco's neglected northern Rif region hold pictures of arrested
protest leader Nasser Zafzafi during a night-time rally in the city of Al-Hoceima
on May 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/FADEL SENNA)

Al Hoceima (Morocco) (AFP) - Several thousand people took to the streets in Morocco after dark on Tuesday to demand the release of the leader of months of protests in the neglected northern Rif region.

The region has been shaken by social unrest since the death in October of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri, 31, who was crushed in a rubbish truck in the fishing port of Al-Hoceima as he protested against the seizure of swordfish caught out of season.

Nasser Zefzafi, who has emerged as the head of the grassroots Popular Movement, was arrested on Monday after three days on the run.

Demonstrators came out near the centre of Al-Hoceima for a fifth straight night at around 10 pm (2200 GMT), after the breaking of the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The protesters shouted slogans including "We are all Zefzafi" and "End militarisation", with hundreds of them brandishing photographs of the detained leader.

Anti-riot police attempted to disperse the protest, but pulled back following a tense but non-violent standoff with the demonstrators.

A similar demonstration took place in the neighbouring town of Imzouren, with a strong police presence, images on social media showed.

Demonstrators in Morocco's neglected northern Rif region crowd the streets of 
the city of Al-Hoceima on May 30, 2017, gathering for a fifth straight day
(AFP Photo/FADEL SENNA)

Smaller protests were held in the capital Rabat and the commercial capital Casablanca but were broken up by police, Moroccan media reported.

Zefzafi's arrest was ordered after he allegedly interrupted a preacher at a mosque on Friday and called for further demonstrations.

Prosecutors charged that he had "obstructed, in the company of a group of individuals, freedom of worship" at the mosque in Al-Hoceima.

He was arrested on Monday "along with other individuals" and transferred to Casablanca, prosecutors said.

As of Monday evening police had arrested 40 people in connection with the disturbances in Al-Hoceima, according to officials.

Human rights groups gave higher figures.

The mainly ethnically Berber Rif region has long had a tense relationship with Morocco's central authorities, and was at the heart of Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011.

The protests subsided following a series of political reforms including constitutional changes that saw King Mohamed VI give up some of his wide-ranging powers.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quality of life on rise for many Africans, report says

Yahoo – AFP, David ESNAULT, May 22, 2017

Despite advances, about 544 million Africans still live in poverty, according
to a report by the African Development Bank (AFP Photo/ALBERT
GONZALEZ FARRAN)

Abidjan (AFP) - Africans are seeing a steady improvement in the quality of their lives, with some countries even nearing world averages, says a wide-ranging report out Monday on the continent's future.

While large portions of the continent's 1.2 billion people live in poverty, many of Africa's 54 nations have made significant progress in health, education and standard of living.

"At least a third of African countries have now achieved medium to high levels of human development," said the report published by the African Development Bank, referring to a composite measure of a nation's condition.

"North Africa has the highest levels, approaching the world average, but all sub-regions have seen steady improvement" since the turn of the 21st century, it added.

Despite the advances, some 544 million Africans still live in poverty, according to the report titled "African Economic Outlook 2017".

Rwanda recorded the most progress, followed by Ghana and Liberia in the fight against poverty since 2005. One of Rwanda's key efforts was a community-based health insurance system that by 2010 had covered nearly 9 in 10 of its people.

At the same time, north African nations Egypt and Tunisia have health insurance systems that cover 78 percent and 100 percent respectively of their residents.

Spending on education, which is considered key for development, is above six percent of gross domestic product in South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, Mozambique and Tunisia. While Nigeria puts less than one percent of its GDP into schooling.

According to World Bank figures, European Union nations spent an average of 4.9 percent of their GDP on education in 2013.

A report by the African Development Bank highlighted education as one of the
 bright spots in moves to improve African development (AFP Photo/Gianluigi GUERCIA)

'Potential for prosperity'

In central Africa, where school completion rates for girls are the lowest on the continent, the gap with boys is increasingly narrowing. Nearly three times as many girls finished secondary education in 2014 than a decade prior.

Gender equality is on the rise in several nations -- including Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda -- where women "achieve almost equal levels of human development as men," the report said.

While there are bright spots in Africa's move toward better income, education and health, serious challenges remain in the fight against poverty.

One of the main ones is the lack of access to cooking fuel, electricity and sanitation. The needs may not come as a surprise given some 645 million people in sub-saharan Africa live without electricity.

The future is also not very bright for many of the continent's young people, nearly half of whom are unemployed. One of the key problems is that many receive an education that does not give them marketable skills.

"The greatest contributor to economic growth is not physical infrastructure, but brainpower, what I refer to as 'grey matter infrastructure'... Stunted children today leads to stunted economies tomorrow," African Development Bank President Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina said in 2016.

The report sees reasons to be hopeful for the economy this year, predicting a 3.4 percent expansion after weak 2.2 percent growth in 2016.

However, the future rebound assumes that "the recovery in commodity prices is sustained, the world economy is strengthened and domestic macroeconomic reforms are entrenched," the report said.

East Africa remains the continent's economic powerhouse, driven in large part by Ethiopia. Overall, Africa remains the second most dynamic region in the world behind developing nations in Asia.

The continent's middle class, which the report estimates at 350 million people, "represents a vast source of potential for prosperity."


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Morocco's Christian converts emerge from the shadows

Yahoo – AFP, Hamza Mekouar, April 30, 2017

Mustapha, the son of an expert on Islamic law in Morocco, says he converted
to Christianity in 1994 to 'fill a spiritual void' (AFP Photo/FADEL SENNA)

Agadir (Morocco) (AFP) - Moroccans who secretly converted to Christianity are demanding the right to practise their faith openly in a country where Islam is the state religion and "apostasy" is condemned.

At an apartment in a working-class part of the southern town of Agadir, Mustapha listened to hymns emanating from a hi-fi under a silver crucifix hung on the wall.

The 46-year-old civil servant, son of an expert on Islamic law from nearby Taroudant, was once an active member of the banned but tolerated Islamist Charity and Justice movement.

He said he converted in 1994 to "fill a spiritual void".

"I was tired of the contradictions in Islam," said Mustapha.

"I became interested in Christianity through a long correspondence with a religious centre in Spain in the late 1980s."

He went on to qualify as a Protestant pastor and received a certificate from the United States after taking a correspondence course.

Mustapha kept his faith secret for two decades, but a year and a half ago he published a video online in which he spoke openly about his conversion. The reaction was immediate.

"Family and close friends turned their backs on me, I was shunned at work. My children were bullied at school," he said.

Converts to Christianity form a tiny minority of Moroccans. While no official statistics exist, the American State Department estimates their numbers at between 2,000 and 6,000.

In Morocco proselytising is punishable by law and anyone found guilty of
 'attempting to undermine the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another 
religion' can be jailed for up to three years (AFP Photo/FADEL SENNA)

'Persecution'

Over the Easter weekend, Mustapha and a dozen fellow converts met for an "afternoon of prayers" in the living room of Rachid, who like Mustapha did not wish to give his full name.

Rachid, who hails from a family of Sufis -- a mystical trend of Islam -- embraced Christianity in 2004 and eventually became a Protestant pastor.

A father of two, Rachid said he became interested in Christianity when he was a teenager after listening to a programme broadcast by a Paris-based radio station.

He researched Christianity at a cyber-cafe, contacted a specialised website and they sent him a copy of the Bible.

"I read the entire thing, studied the word of God, took courses," he said. "At the age of 24, I was baptised in a Casablanca apartment."

In April, Mustapha, Rachid and other Moroccan converts submitted a request to the official National Council of Human Rights (CNDH) calling for "an end to persecution" against them.

"We demand the right to give our children Christian names, to pray in churches, to be buried in Christian cemeteries and to marry according to our religion," Mustapha said.

Islam is the state faith of Morocco but the country's 2011 constitution, drafted after it was rocked by Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations, guarantees freedom of religion.

Foreign Christians and the country's tiny Jewish community -- of about 2,500 people -- practise their faiths openly.

Moroccan authorities boast of promoting religious tolerance and a "moderate" form of Islam, and the country's penal code does not explicitly prohibit apostasy -- the act of rejecting Islam or any of its main tenets.

Rachid says he is 'Moroccan before being Christian' (AFP Photo/FADEL SENNA)

'Ultra-sensitive'

But in Morocco proselytising is punishable by law and anyone found guilty of "attempting to undermine the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another religion" can be jailed for up to three years.

"The subject is ultra-sensitive because it relates to the history of colonisation and to the idea that Christianity constitutes a danger to the unity of Morocco," a sociologist of religion told AFP.

But Rachid said the lines are shifting.

"The arrests have almost stopped, which is a big step," he said. "Harassment has become scarce."

Rachid, who says "I am Moroccan before being Christian," practises his faith openly and lives a normal life in a working-class district of Agadir alongside his Muslim neighbours.

Most Moroccans who have converted to Christianity live in Agadir and the central city of Marrakesh, and the majority have said they are Protestants.

With the exception of local Jews, Moroccans are automatically considered Muslims and King Mohamed VI holds the official title of Commander of the Faithful.

Mustapha said the 2011 constitution and actions by the king "in favour of tolerance and coexistence" have helped bolster human rights in Morocco.

But "the penal code, political parties and society have not followed suit", he said.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pope Francis pleads for 'holy' peace during Egypt visit

Yahoo – AFP, Samer Al-Atrush and Catherine Marciano, April 28, 2017

Pope Francis and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi chat with officials
after meeting in Cairo on April 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/KHALED DESOUKI)

Cairo (AFP) - Pope Francis pleaded for peace in a visit to Egypt on Friday as he attended a service in solidarity with the embattled Coptic minority at a church bombed by the Islamic State group.

The pontiff walked to the Saint Peter and Saint Paul church in Cairo in a procession led by standard-bearing clergy, after meeting Coptic Pope Tawadros II at his headquarters.

Security forces in the capital were on high alert under a state of emergency following a series of church bombings claimed by IS.

On April 9, the jihadists bombed two churches in the Arab world's most populous country, killing 45 people in the deadliest attack on Copts in recent memory.

Last December, the Saint Peter and Saint Paul church was itself targeted by a suicide bomber in an attack that killed 29 people.

Francis had earlier met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of the Al-Azhar institution, one of Muslim world's leading authorities, to push for dialogue between the two faiths.

In a speech to a Muslim-Christian conference, the 80-year-old pontiff denounced violence and populism.

"Peace alone... is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his name," Francis said.

He criticised what he called "demagogic forms of populism... on the rise", saying they were unhelpful to peace.

Francis shuttled from one engagement to another in a closed car under heavy guard on the first day of his tightly scheduled 27-hour trip.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and Pope Francis embrace
 during his visit to the prestigious Sunni Muslim institution in Cairo on April 28, 
2017 (AFP Photo/STRINGER)

'Innocent blood'

Police and soldiers stood guard outside the Vatican residence in Cairo and armoured cars were stationed outside the Coptic Orthodox Saint Mark's Cathedral, where Tawadros II's headquarters are located.

Francis met the Coptic pope at his offices where the two exchanged gifts.

"Our church and nation has been through a painful experience in the past few months when the sinful hand of terrorism reached out to murder praying innocents," Tawadros said in a speech at the meeting.

"Their innocent blood unites us," Francis said in turn.

They signed an ecumenical agreement to no longer require Catholics to be rebaptised if they choose to become Orthodox, as often happens in Egypt.

He and Tawadros then walked in procession to the Saint Peter and Saint Paul church, where they sat near the altar as a choir sang hymns to clashing cymbals.

Hours before the church visit, Francis became the first Roman Catholic pope to visit the head of Al-Azhar in his Cairo headquarters, sealing a recent improvement in relations between Catholicism and Islam.

In another speech with Sisi in the audience, Francis expressed support for Egypt's military campaign against IS which bombed the churches and has also killed hundreds of police and troops.

But he also insisted on "unconditional respect for inalienable human rights such as equality among all citizens, religious freedom and freedom of expression".

Sisi has faced heavy criticism from rights groups for abuses since he led the military ouster of his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Security is extremely tight in Cairo for the pope's visit (AFP Photo/
MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)

'Pilgrim of peace'

Before disembarking from his aircraft in Cairo, Francis had told reporters his visit was a "journey of unity and fraternity. Less than two days but very intense."

His meeting with Tayeb, he said, would "be an example and a model for peace precisely because it will be a meeting of dialogue".

"Please pray for my journey tomorrow as a pilgrim of peace to Egypt," Francis tweeted on the eve of his departure.

Before his visit, some roads had been festooned with posters showing Francis against the backdrop of the Pyramids, with a message that read: "Pope of peace in the Egypt of peace."

John Paul II was the last pope to have visited Egypt in 2000, with his arrival also coming weeks after anti-Christian violence that killed about 20 Copts in January that year.

Vatican dialogue with the Muslim world, a priority for this pope, was set back significantly when Francis's predecessor Benedict XVI made a speech in 2006 in which he was seen as linking Islam to violence.

The now-retired German pontiff's 2011 comments condemning an attack on a Coptic church prompted Al-Azhar to denounce Benedict for meddling in Egypt's affairs.

On Saturday, the pontiff will preside over a mass for the country's small Catholic community, estimated to number around 272,000 spread across various rites.

Egypt's Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the country's population of 92 million, are the Middle East's largest Christian minority and one of the oldest.

But they have suffered attacks throughout the years and many complain that they feel like second-class citizens.

burs-se/srm


Africa rejects Europe's 'dirty diesel'

Ghana and Nigeria are the first countries to respond to reports of European companies exploiting weak fuel standards in Africa. Stricter limits on the sulfur content of diesel will come into force on July 1.

Deutsche Welle, 29 April 2017


Governments in West Africa are taking action to stop the import of fuel with dangerously high levels of sulfur and other toxins. Much of the so-called "dirty diesel" originates in Europe, according to a report published by Public Eye, a Swiss NGO, last year.

The report exposed what Public Eye calls the "illegitimate business" of European oil companies and commodities traders selling low quality fuel to Africa. While European standards prohibit the use of diesel with a sulfur content higher than 10 parts per million (ppm), diesel with as much as 3,000 ppm is regularly exported to Africa.

From July 1, diesel being sold at the pumps in Ghana and Nigeria will have to meet a maximum 50 ppm standard.

"We're very happy to see this change in policy," Public Eye's Oliver Classen told DW. "We are still hoping that other West African countries will follow suit, such as the Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo or Mali."

Health risks of dirty diesel

During an investigation spanning three years, Public Eye tested the fuel for sale at gas stations in eight African countries, five of which were in West Africa. They found that more than two thirds of the samples taken had a sulfur level 150 times the European limit.

Africa's cities are growing quickly. Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, has a population of 21 million, and estimates suggest this number could almost double by the year 2050. Bigger cities mean a much greater risk from air pollution. While rapid urbanization and the poor quality of the largely second-hand car fleet in the region are partly responsible for the high levels of air pollution, low quality diesel also has a significant impact.

Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, already has a population of 21 million

Fuel pollutants have been linked to the development of asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The Public Eye report claimed that switching to low sulfur fuel in Africa, as well as introducing cars with modern emissions control technologies, could prevent 25,000 premature deaths in 2030 and 100,000 in 2050.

"Double standards"

Classen explains that Public Eye has been driving a "two-fold campaign" in order to force change in the fuel industry.

"Our partner organizations in West Africa made sure that this strong message from the people who are suffering from these sulfurous emissions on the ground is heard by their governments," he says. "In Switzerland we put pressure on the companies that take advantage of these double standards - shamelessly, ruthlessly, systematically."

The report focuses on Swiss trading companies that use a process known as "blending" to combine low and high specification fuel, creating a mixture that complies with weak African regulations. As the report explains, "the closer to the specification boundary the product lies, the larger the potential margin for the trader."

The harmful effects of diesel have been well publicized in Europe in recent years

This sub-standard product, known in the industry as "African Quality," could not be sold in Europe, but it is not illegal for it to be sold elsewhere. The blending process - which takes place either in European ports or en route to Africa, via a "ship-to-ship" transfer - complicates the matter, because fuel from various suppliers can be mixed into one product.

According to Public Eye, Swiss companies also own, or are major stakeholders in companies that own, a great deal of the "downstream" infrastructure used for blending, transporting and distributing fuel - such as ships, storage tanks, petrol stations and pipelines.

Despite having significant oil reserves, West Africa lacks sufficient refinery resource to process its own higher quality oil and has therefore welcomed cheaper imports from abroad.

Whose responsibility?

Following the report, governments in five West African countries were quick to pledge an overhaul of fuel regulations. Ghana and Nigeria are the first to follow through on this promise. But what about the commodities traders in Europe?

"They actually didn't respond at all," Classen says. "We brought up a petition here in Switzerland, and 20,000 people signed that petition asking those commodities giants to stop selling dirty diesel to Africa. But nothing happened. Zero."


The two main commodities companies implicated in the report were Trafigura and Vitol. Both told DW that, while they accepted that the problem of high sulfur fuel needed to be dealt with, the onus was on the governments in Africa to ensure the quality of diesel being sold at the pumps.

Vitol added that, under current regulations, European companies cannot be certain that what they supply to importers from a certain country will then be sold in that country. "If Vitol, or any other supplier, were to supply EU-specification (at a financial loss) to an importer, there is nothing to stop the importer from reselling the cargo, at a profit, and sourcing a cargo with a cheaper specification for local use."

Pressure on the middle men

Around 50 percent of the European oil that ends up in West Africa flows through the ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, known as the ARA region. Public Eye called on these "export hubs" to ban the export of fuel that does not meet European standards.

"There's a huge public debate going on in the Netherlands and Belgium," Classen explains. "There have been parliamentary motions and a whole lot of media coverage on the issue, and there's pressure on their governments there. We are hoping to see some change of mind which would put Swiss commodity traders under sever pressure to change their business practices."

In response to concerns about tougher regulations pushing up fuel prices, Public Eye points out that five East African countries adopted low sulfur fuels in January 2015 "with no impact on prices at the pump."

Ghana has significant oil reserves but only one refinery, the state-owned
Tema facility

Mahamudu Bawumia, the Vice President of Ghana, said that the introduction of the new regulations would see Ghana "moving to be at the same level as the western countries or the East African countries."

He added that the changes "will reduce respiratory diseases triggered by fuel toxins with higher sulfur content."

Nigeria has also announced plans for all domestically produced fuel to meet the 50 ppm standards by 2020. At a meeting of African fuel producers in February, Ndu Ughamadu, the spokesperson for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, said that the installation of equipment to cut sulfur emissions was already underway or planned at three of Nigeria's four refineries.

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A lorry near Accra. Photo: Carl De Keyzer – Magnum


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Israel uncovers ancient Roman history at Mediterranean port

Yahoo – AFP, April 26, 2017

People sit next to an ancient aqueduct in the Roman-era city of Caesarea which
is set for renovation as part of a multi-million-dollar project (AFP Photo/Jack GUEZ)

Caesarea (Israel) (AFP) - Israeli archaeologists working on a major Roman-era port city on Wednesday unveiled new discoveries including an altar dedicated to Augustus Caesar and a centuries-old mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a menorah.

The finds at Caesarea, a complex on the Mediterranean coast 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Tel Aviv, were the result of "one of the largest and most important conservation projects ever undertaken in Israel," the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

Caesarea was established some 2,030 years ago by Roman-appointed King Herod the Great, who ruled what was then Judea.

Today, the ruins are a popular tourist destination where concerts are still held in the remains of an ancient Roman theatre.

Archaeologists say a small tablet engraved with a seven-branched menorah, 
discovered during at the ancient harbour of Caesarea, indicates Jewish presence
at the site dating back to the fourth or fifth centuries (AFP Photo/JACK GUEZ)

Archaeologist Peter Gendelman, leading a tour of the site, said the preservation work was perhaps the most "complicated and interesting" project he had worked on in his 30-year career.

Some of the finds are "completely changing our understanding of the dynamics of this area", he said.

Authorities are planning to finish the excavations within months and open a visitors' centre built into ancient vaults to illustrate the city's history.

Guy Swersky, vice chairman of the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation, said Caesarea was a major city from Roman times right through to the Crusader era.

"This was by far the most important port city in this area of the Middle East," he said.

A picture taken on April 26, 2017 shows part of an ancient synagogue in the
Roman-era town of Caesarea on the Israeli coast (AFP Photo/JACK GUEZ)

The Edmond de Rothschild Foundation and local authorities have allocated more than 100 million shekels ($27 million, 25 million euros) for the project.

The site, which contains ruins from later periods including the Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader eras, has been the focus of major excavation work over the decades but recent work has revealed new secrets.

The project also aims to preserve the remains of an ancient synagogue and a nearby aquaduct.

Officials said a small mother-of-pearl tablet engraved with a menorah was testimony to an ancient Jewish presence at the site.

Archaeologists said it likely dates to the fourth or fifth century AD.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dutch businessman found guilty of war crimes in Liberia

DutchNews, April 21, 2017

Photo: Depositphotos
A Dutch businessman has been found guilty of war crimes and smuggling weapons into Liberia by the appeal court in Den Bosch in the latest twist in a legal case dating back over 10 years. 

Guus Kouwenhoven, now 74, had been earlier found not guilty of the charges but the Supreme Court in 2010 ordered the case be heard again. Judges sentenced him to 19 years in prison, one year less than the public prosecution department had demanded. 

On Friday Kouwenhoven was found guilty of delivering weapons to Liberian dictator Charles Taylor in 2000 and 2002 in return for special treatment for his timber company. The weapons deliveries broke international embargoes. 

Some 150,000 people were killed during the Liberian civil war. Taylor was eventually deposed in 20013 and sentenced to 50 years in jail. 

Kouwenhoven was first sentenced to eight years in prison for breaking the UN arms embargo on Liberia in 2006. That sentence was later overturned on appeal in 2008. 

Then in 2010, the Supreme Court said later the appeal court was wrong to refuse to hear two key witnesses who could only give evidence anonymously and ordered the case to be heard again. 

Kouwenhoven, who is in poor health, was not in court to hear the verdict. He has always denied the charges.


Former Liberian President Charles Taylos was sentenced to 
50 years in prison in 2013

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